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One flag, one nation

Many years ago, my day as a cadet at the Philippine Military Academy started when reveille was sounded in the early hours of the morning, sending us all to our respective companies to form as a battalion. On orders of the first captain, we would then salute the flag as it was raised to the tune of the national anthem. This was the first duty of the day, carried out every day of the week, except Sundays, for four years while we were at Fort Del Pilar. To be honest, at that time, my knowledge of the flag was quite vague. It had red, white, and blue colors, with a sun and stars on a triangle at the hoist. But the fact that saluting the flag was first on the agenda of the day made me realize the importance of this symbol of our nation and our people.

Last week on May 28, we marked National Flag Day, commemorating the first military victory of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo after returning from exile in Hong Kong. The Battle of Alapan in Imus, Cavite, lasted for five hours and victory led to the surrender of all Spanish forces in the province. Before revolutionary officials and captured Spanish soldiers including their commander, Gen. Leopoldo Garcia Peña, the national flag was unfurled for the first time. Two weeks later, Philippine Independence was proclaimed, signaling the establishment of the First Republic in Asia.

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The text of the Independence Proclamation of June 12, 1898, explaining the symbolism of the flag, contains these lines: “The colors of blue, red, and white commemorate the flag of the United States of North America, as a manifestation of our profound gratitude towards this Great Nation for its disinterested protection which it lends us and continues to lend us.” By August, the Americans after more of their troops had arrived, captured the City of Manila after a sham battle with Spanish forces, locking out Filipino revolutionaries. In February 1899, war broke out between US and Filipino forces. So much for the “disinterested protection” lent by the United States!

As we move closer to Philippine Independence Day on June 12, let us remind ourselves of some of the key features of the flag that we often take for granted. The flag was designed by Feliciano Jocson, and was sewn by Marcela Agoncillo with the help of her daughter Lorenza, and Delfina Natividad. It has equal bands of royal blue and crimson red colors, with an equidistant white triangle at the hoist. In the center of the triangle is a sun with eight primary rays representing the first eight provinces placed under martial law during the revolution. They were Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Pampanga, Laguna, Batangas, Tarlac, and Nueva Ecija. At each vertex of the triangle is a five-pointed golden star representing Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. There are some variations of this list.

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When I was posted to Indonesia in 1987, one of the things that I observed about our Indonesian brothers was their strong sense of nationalism as reflected in the pride and reverence they hold for their national colors. For days prior to marking their Independence Day on Aug. 17, the simple red and white flag of Indonesia is prominently displayed in the front of most homes in all parts of the land. On the day itself, the community becomes a sea of red and white flags This could only indicate a commanding love of country that has kept a nation of some 17,000 islands united in the face of conflicts and natural disasters.

Looking around these days, I do not see many flags flown in front of government offices or private homes. If there are any, they are inconspicuous or hidden from view. Many are old and tattered. Pride in showing the flag indicates pride of community and nation. We need some re-awakening of our people reminding them of old-fashioned basic values such as love of country and people, patriotism, respect for the flag, upholding national interests, setting aside differences, and striving for cooperation and unity for the greater good. Incorporating all these values in one statement of national policy would help bring about a sense of nationhood. But this policy, one could call it a national ideology, must be drummed continuously into the mind of every Filipino from early years all the way to K-to-12. Some might say it is already been done in our schools. If so, it is being carried out poorly. We need a review and emphatic restatement of national policy. And the leader must participate and set the example.

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